Hvor (Addr: 1414 Notre Dame Ouest, Montreal, QC ; Phone: 514-937-2001 ) has been in my top 3 in Montreal since its opening in 2016. Despite the Scandinavian name, their  focus is on contemporary Franco Japanese cooking (French technique with Japanese sensitivity) . They now have one “surprise” tasting menu and clearly lent an ear to those who need not to be surprised as, on the evening of my visit, the wait-staff explained that  an A la carte menu (only verbal, not written) was also available. This is a kitchen brigade capable of great creativity (but not a creativity that will shock as the flavours remain familiar/comforting for  anyone accustomed to the contemporary cosmopolitan restaurants of any big city of the western world), therefore I chose the “surprise” tasting menu.
01Their  take on the japanese okonomiyaki savoury pancake, cabbage, black trumpet, truffles, foie gras mayonnaise  – inventive take on the okonomiyaki with superb ingredients, served at  a warm temperature that did add  a lot to the enjoyment of this  delectable   take on  the okonomiyaki  9/10
 02Hirame fish (fluke in this case,served raw), marinated in a  citrus vinaigrette, served with a dressing of   japanese pickled red radish (daikon), white radish, persimmon, habanero chilli – the quality of the fish high, the pickling of the red radish excellent,  the hint of sweet persimmon,  spice  red radish / habanero chilli  are well matched to give this dish  great complex layers.   8/10

03Jerusalem artichoke velouté (the velouté was mixed with  white beer), shrimp from British columbia, mushrooms, sunflower seeds (the mushrooms and the sunflower seeds having the look  of a mini  tartare in the middle of the velouté, the shrimps atop) – the velouté  rich, dense with a necessary kick of salt that lifts up the flavor of the velouté. Oftently, kitchen brigades and diners confuse “too salty” with a necessary bold kick of salt. A talented Chef should never be afraid to use a  bold  “kick” of salt where it is really necessary. That is the sign of intelligent and inspired cooking, which is  what they have accomplished with this dish. A first-rate velouté. 9/10

Carpaccio of Quebec’s lamb, grated prosciutto of that same lamb, a bit of tarragon oil (which blended remarkably well with a touch of sweet onion confit), a pesto made of jalapeno/mint/delicately crushed almonds. The dish also featured some marinated chanterelles and drops of mayonnaise of Japanese sardines. For many kitchen brigades, that collection of endless ingredients would lead to a lack of synergy between the components of that dish. Not here. The top quality lamb from Quebec was not the sole star: the pesto was a benchmark of its kind,  exciting on the palate. Exciting could also be said of the mayonnaise, every single ingredient of that dish as well as the dish as a whole. The parts and the sum of all parts dazzled. Exciting is generally a word I do not use profusely in my reviews (not that I would not like to, not at all, but only because most restaurants are just replicators of generic recipes) but this dish forced me to do so. A dish pertaining to the big leagues here and abroad. 10/10

04Rutabaga fettucine, black truffles, hazelnut butter, mimolette cheese – the aldente texture of pasta faithfully replicated in the superb crunchy texture of the top quality rutabaga. It is true that top quality produce is one important aspect of such perfected dish. But then, that is a tool and you need to know what to do with it. What they did with the superb produce they had in hands is a dish that expressed a really high level of technical execution (precise cooking, perfected textures) ,  and superlative flavors. Lots of wit.  It is hard — by any level of cooking, here and abroad —  to improve upon such dish 10/10
05Cod, celeriac, Vermouth flavored sauce – The flesh  kept properly moist. Fine sear of the cod’s skin. Ok  6/10
06Rabbit wrapped with speck (beacon fat) and chocolate sauce – The speck adding necessary fatty and meaty flavor to the rabbit, the chocolate sauce having the necessary delicate cocoa bitterness to cut through the fat of the speck while still complementing very well a meat of restrained flavor such as the rabbit. Technically, this pertained to a very high level of cooking as they nailed it where …. even highly regarded kitchen brigades do sometimes fail by misjudging  the right percentage of cocoa that is needed in chocolate sauces that are used in combination with meats. That percentage of cocao is obviously important as it determines the intensity of bitterness to be found in the chocolate sauce. Less bitterness from the cocoa would have led to a flavor profile that is generic/ordinary . A tad more bitter and you may as well remove the rabbit as its presence would not be pertinent anymore.  They made something  tricky look effortless.   8/10

07The dessert was a technically assured interplay of textures around (essentially) white chocolate and citrus fruits: White chocolate mousse/powder/meringue, sorbet of bergamot orange / lemon and some drops of vodka gel – a dessert that would not be out of place in a serious michelin star restaurant with meringue, mousse, gel, powder and a sorbet of sheer perfection (striking textures). Glamour in the form of a dessert 10/10

PROS: the world class cooking of the Rutagaba fettucine and lamb carpaccio of this evening

CONS: N/A

Overall food rating (Category  Top tier restaurant in Montreal): 9/10 Culinary-wise, I found this meal more  exciting  than  what I ate the other day at Atelier Joel Robuchon Montreal (both kitchen brigades happen to be inspired by French and Japanese cuisines). This is also one of  the very best meals I had in Montreal in a long while. Hvor’s kitchen brigade takes the risks that many Chefs are afraid of (for eg, using a vast array of  ingredients ), turn them into successful creations and ensure to cover all aspects that great cooking should go through: tasting great, inventive, technically strong. Excellent service, inspired wine pairings, first-rate ingredients and a pretty restaurant. Hvor is in my top 3 in Montreal in good company (La Chronique and Le Serpent).

What I think days later – I do not use ratings for the fun of it. I use them to underline how far a dish expressed a deep level of inspiration (going beyond and above the basic act of replicating a recipe). I realized, with time, that most of the dishes that I have rated with a 7/10, despite being good dishes, were essentially just the work of a chef replicating a recipe for the sake of replicating it (there are, of course, exceptions to this rule). The “industrial” or “factory”  effect, if you want. I am polite, so I do usual define the “factory” effect ..when the food is still decent…in terms such as “this was good execution rather than benchmark craftmanship”, it was “fine”, it was “pleasant”, it was “correct”. Yep, read between the lines! But that is not the “effect”  I deem worthy of leaving the comfort of home for. Anything above an 8/10 is not an applied recipe. It is the work of a talented Chef expressing true cooking skills, a touch, some wit. When I look at the reviews of my meals at Hvor, I see a lot of those 8/10, and  even dishes largely deserving of higher ratings. Of course, it helps that I appreciate both French and Japanese cuisine, but without true skills, you won’t win my heart. Hvor won it and I hope it never stops to excel at what it is doing right now.

My foodie adventures were limited to New York and Montreal in 2016.

In Montreal, Hoogan and Beaufort started the year on a high note (my first two meals), but my third visit impressed less, which is also what happened at my long time favourite pizzeria in town, Bottega. I did not care for my meals at Le Fantome , Yakitori Otto and Tiradito, all regarded as great restaurants by our local food journalists and most local food bloggers. Hvor (in my current top 3 in Montreal) and Marconi were my two preferred local restaurants in 2016. I also enjoyed some genuine ethnic food at Petite Ya Quartier (Congolese), Casse croute Notre Dame (Haitian) and Hot Africa (Pan African).

01I did spend plenty of time eating in New York in 2016. One highlight was the superb savory dishes at the River Cafe (located in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn bridge), a restaurant widely known as a romantic destination but which savory french gourmet dishes happen to be as memorable. I ate at Atelier Joel Robuchon Montreal in January 2017 and in comparison, the French based gourmet food (the savoury dishes, not the desserts)  at the RC had the edge. And I swear it is not romance that influenced my impression of the RC. New York has it all, so I took advantage of its varied food offerings and tried different types of cuisines. One of them is yakitori (Japanese gastro pub), which  is well represented in New York, but the yakitoriya that stands out  is  the 1 star Michelin Torishin, which  fed me with some of the best yakitori food to be found in North America, alas  they had, on the day of my visit,  two employees whose “exploits” would have led to the immediate demotion of their sole Michelin star if I was an inspector of Michelin. All I wanted when I was at Torishin was to build a wall between those two dudes and myself and have Torishin paying for it. The account of my meal at Torishin can be perused here. New York is also the mecca of North American steakhouses and after trying some of their best steakhouses (Bull & Bear Prime Steakhouse, Peter Luger, Del Frisco’s double Eagle, Strip House), I have to say that for my taste, the steak I had at Wolfgang’s steakhouse Park Avenue‘s matches the sort of steak I like (essentially because they dry age their steaks and season it the way I like it), with true Chefs instead of just some dudes hired to flip their steaks on the broiler, the service starting really well but ending poorly. While reading online reviews on their various New York locations, I noticed  that many people complained about the exact same poor service I have experience at  the end of my  meal (basically, the waitstaff disappearing once the food is served). So, I will go back and adapt  (by, as example, asking for a bottle of water so that you do not have to wake up and try  finding a waiter when you need water, etc) to what seem to be common at some of the WS NYC locations, which  a diner should not bother about at a restaurant, especially   given the pricetag of your  bill at this kind of  steakhouse, I will admit. But for now, no other steakhouse in NYC has fed me with a steak that is dry aged and tasting like the one at WS (apart Peter Luger, but WS offers a greater variety of starters, main courses and desserts). Of course, you can also find some great service at a pricey restaurant in New York, as proven by my meal at Marea which is a superb Italian restaurant by North American standards but could be even better with meat, poultry and vegetables coming straight from Italy. I am usually a locavore, but in the case of Marea, the produce from Italy is what they were missing during my meal there. Another good finding was La Caye, as great as a Haitian restaurant can be in North America, but a restaurant that badly needs to start serving some dazzling cocktails to be a perfect caribbean restaurant. Jordan’s lobster dock in Brooklyn is another place I would highly recommend: nothing fancy here, as it is basically a seafood shack, but I have not found a better  seafood shack in New York up to now.

02L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, the  restaurant chain  of Chef Robuchon, has — since  December 2016 — a branch  in the casino of Montreal (1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, QC  Phone: 514-392-2781 Click here for their web site) . At the helm of the restaurant, Chef Eric Gonzalez – This is a major opening for Montreal and Eric is a logical choice for such venture given his past experience in Europe with  well known Chefs Bernard Loiseau and Jacques Chibois. He was also working  at restaurant Clairefontaine when the venture was awarded with a Michelin  star.  In the past, I ate Eric’s food in his days at Le  Cube (now closed) , then at Auberge St-Gabriel.

I took the “seasonal discovery” menu (there are also A la carte items, a ” small portions ” / vegetarian /and  another tasting  menu) :

foie-gras The amuse-bouche was  creamy foie gras royale (a foie gras based flanc), topped with parmesan cheese emulsion and a  Maury “vieilles vignes” wine reduction sauce. Once mixed together (which you are supposed to), this food item  provided an  enjoyable mouthfeel, rich and yet refined. As it will be the case all along this meal, every single element is executed correctly   7/10

salmon-tartareSalmon tartare (from Nova Scotia) with caviar (from British Colombia) atop, shiso shoots and gold leaf.  The tartare was good, the quality of the salmon and caviar noticeable. There is some nice caviar from Estrie that tastes exactly the same  as this caviar from BC. So why going that far for the caviar?  That said, as it came out from my discussion with the waitstaff,    top quality produce from Quebec is a priority, and indeed I could appreciate their effort in that regard as some great Québecois produce such as the scallops from Percé and halibut from Gaspésie featured on the written menu.  This  fine logical combination of  ingredients was good. Robuchon’s plating is always elegant and that was going to be an evidence during this meal  7/10

 

scallopsScallops from Massachusetts, endives and black truffles: around this time of the year, I recall having sampled some dazzling scallops from Gaspesie in the past. The scallops of this evening  were undoubtly fine, their maritime fragrance at the forefront. But those from Gaspesie had the edge.  Still, nicely seared tasty scallops and a salad of endives ( great soucing of the endives)  that was not an afterthought. Good 7/10

chataigneVeloute of chestnut, spring onion mousse, cardamom cloud. Chestnut veloute (which is very popular in France) is not common in Quebec,  therefore, this may come as a   pleasant “discovery” for many local diners. Which is always a “bonus” as far as  the dining experience goes. This was delicious and well made. Very good 8/10

 

lobsterLobster, coconut emulsion, wasabi flavored spinach, tempura chips, civet – lobster (claws) cooked just through, coconut emulsion, a civet  and tempura chips showcasing fine technique. Cooking lobster is certainly no culinary achievement,  but I have a soft spot for seafood handled and sourced this well …. no matter the level of the cooking. Very good 8/10

halibut-Halibut from Gaspésie, shiso shoots tempura, cuttlefish ink risotto. The halibut’s cooking is well timed. Halibut can get dry really fast, so timing is important. The delicious risotto (bomba rice) retained a perfect all’onda consistency  7/10 for the halibut, 8/10 for the risotto (it is a tasting menu, therefore the risotto came in small quantity)

 

quail-Honey/Soya sauce lacquered quail  was served with Joel’s fabled pomme purée, which is a potato purée with a bit more buttery flavor and refined texture than your  usual pomme puree (from what I remember, the pomme purée was more delicious at Atelier Robuchon Etoile). This is a good example of why this meal —  although, well composed  — never managed to knock my socks off: this quail, as expected  from a Robuchon restaurant, is of good quality. But quail is  usually packed with a flavor that is a bit assertive (a bit more than chicken, for eg) and that can stand up well with strong spices and the use of flames (chargill, etc). Here, they have opted to refine the flavor of the quail and I was not thrilled (of course, a matter of personal choice)  eventhough their quail was enjoyable  (in a way, it reminded me a bit of what a high end isakaya would do with their quail – refining its taste, adding luxurious touches like the foie gras that this quail was stuffed with, and opting for an oriental flavor profile such as the one provided by the Honey/Soya sauce of this evening’s quail ). This dish is a signature dish that is offered at other Robuchon restaurants in its current form, therefore do not expect any modification to the formula.   Still a   7/10

cocoParfum des Iles – Passion fruit cremeux (the cream successfully dense and soft as it should, with the flavor of the fruit  present enough), rhum granite (the semi-frozen dessert having  its rhum flavor subtle, so subtle that I would not know if it was flavored with rhum had they not mention it – the subtle rhum flavor was not a bad thing in this case as a strong flavor coming from the rhum would have overwhelmed the dessert), coconut wisp (fresh coconut aromas that went  well with the passion fruit cremeux).    7/10

 

cranberryLe rubis – One of  the signature desserts of Robuchon restaurants. The ingredients and presentation may vary  from  locations to locations. The one I was having was made of cranberry buttercream  which was a particularly enticing  flavor, calpico jelly (calpico is a japanese drink, tasting a bit like yoghurt)  and a lychee chantilly.  I had a version of Le rubis once at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile in Paris and the Parisian Rubis dazzled more (more flavorful). Still,  the execution was correct, the flavors fine.  7.5/10

The breads (a small basket of a perfect pain baguette, delicious Quebecois Alfred le Fermier cheese bread, some snail-shaped bread as delicate and light as a croissant and a bacon/dijon wheat stalk  bread) , freshly baked on the premises (among the best breads you will find at a local restaurant) , were all excellent (Joel Robuchon seems to always hire  talented bakers as the breads have always been consistently superb at his restaurants abroad). I picked a coffee (superb) and the meal ended with their usual  mignardises (well made pâte de fruits and macarons).

Service was  professional, and yet warm, friendly. And the  black and red luxurious interior design is attractive.

PROS: By Montreal high end restaurant standards,  this is already a destination restaurant. Opting for the informal counter seating “Atelier” concept, rather than formal fine dining,  is “the way to go” in Montreal, I believe.

CONS: The  desserts lacked crunch and bite – which is understandable with one dessert, but not with two – and that is an aspect they could improve upon.  A texture change between two desserts is always more fun. Furthermore, I think that a chocolate-based dessert — like le “chocolat tendance” or the “chocolate sphere” found at the other AJRs around the globe — would have better complemented their wintery seasonal tasting menu and contribute a bit to the sense of “extravaganza” / “theatre” that you may sometimes find at other AJRs and that I was missing a little bit here.

Overall food rating: 7/10 by Montreal  top tier fine dining standards. There are 4,5 other Chefs in Montreal who,  in their prime, have impressed more with their French-inspired gourmet food , which is why I can’t rate this meal higher. For my taste, this meal was more about proper  execution/flavors / textures  rather than  benchmark cooking.  But the Robuchon’s empire has access to a worlwide network of experienced kitchen brigades, so expect the food to benefit from such expertise and thrive. And although I am big on local produce, I will  admit that one way for an International restaurant to surprise its local diners is by using produce that we are not familiar with. I bet that even the most ferocious advocates of our local produce will, behind closed doors, fantasize about the idea of feasting on alba truffles or hard-to-find wagyu beef if such items were offered at AJRM.

What I think days later: Occasional local diners as well as our local food jounalists will  be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

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01Escondite (Addr: 1206 Union Ave,  Montreal; Phone: 514-419-9755; URL:  http://www.escondite.ca)  is a popular  tacos and tequila bar  revisiting some staples of tex mex cuisine , adding  their  own twists such as the El general Chapo dish, which is their  mexican take  on the general Tao or combining  familiar local ingredients such as the maple syrup with  ingredients typically found in Mexican food, or, to take another example, by adding Mexican twists to some local staples.

Mexican food as well as its Tex Mex Americanized rendition is not unfamiliar to most of us, North Americans. Mexico being one  neighbor we tend to visit when trying to escape our harsh  winter. So, this is food  of which most of us   know what to expect. I am talking about realisitic expectations – For eg, I do not expect Mexican food outside of Mexico to taste exactly the same as in  Mexico as, obviously …  the tacos were not made with the exact same water, flour,  their  fillings not with meats coming from the exact same purveyors.  The diners are not the same neither, therefore not opened to the same depth of flavors. I doubt that diners outside of Mexico are ready to feast on some of the bold flavors found in Mexico or on some chapolines anytime soon. That is why I refrain from comparing  Mexican food in Mexico to its incarnations abroad. It would be nonsensical.

On this evening, I ordered:

 

03Their fish tacos (All their tacos are served as  a pair of  soft tacos made of 6 inches snack flour tortillas  for $8) are made of  battered deep-fried cod, a cream of avocado (in place of the common white creamy sauce that is usually found in baja-style tacos — which these tacos took their inspiration from) and cabbage slaw. I prefer this simple combination of ingredients in my tacos to the overhelming display of ingredients that can sometimes be found with fish tacos elsewhere. The battered deep-fried cod   featuring  a delicate  crisp. Although I tend to prefer the bold and rustic flavors of some traditional tacos, I have to admit that Escondite’s  refined fish tacos were still  very enjoyable 7/10

04Al pastor soft tacos, pork belly al pastor, grilled pineapple, onions. They use quality ingredients and that was key to this  taco as, to take an example, their pork was of better quality than at your average taqueria. They have marinated the pork belly exquisitely  well. 8/10

Guacamole: prior to my meal, while reading the online reviews on Escondite, I found that their guacamole is praised by some as the best guacamole they ever had, others finding it lacking in terms of seasoning. This one I was having was  judiciously seasoned,  the avocado perfectly ripe (essential for a good guacamole), the splash of acidity coming from the lime not overwhelming at all (the mistake you do not want to make with a guacamole) and yet vivid /  exciting on the palate. 8/10

 

steak-koreano-e steak koreano & nopal – sirloin, oaxaca cheese,  grilled cactus, pickled jàlapeno, spicy orange crush crema- this had a complexity of flavors that were very exciting.   This as well as the el pastor taco are my preferred bites at Escondite.  8/10

la-tinga-la tinga (tomato and chipotle chicken, queso oaxaca, lime crema ,  lettuce) hard shell tacos were the least interesting of the tacos I have tried as the flavors did nothing for me, and the hard texture of a tortilla is something I can live without   6/10

 

quesadillas-Quesadillas ($14) were as tasty as you would expect from good quality melting cheese (oaxaca and cheddar, in this case) in flour tortillas. black truffle paste and mushrooms were added for complexity. Oaxaca and cheddar were thoughtful and stood as the right choice of cheeses for the quesadillas. 7/10

 

05-Nachos 2.0 ($12) – Gyozas au monterey Jack, jalapeno, pico de gallo aux grenades, guacamole, queso fresco, crema au poivre noir (black pepper  crema).  Gyoza nachos are nachos shaped like dumplings. Rustic, in presentation, rather than sophisticated but that is normal for taqueria food. The mild flavor of the monterey jack cheese  complimenting well the guacamole and salsa fresca laid atop the nachos. The enticing blend of flavors perpetuated with the addition of the queso fresco and black pepper crema. This was a  highlight for me.   8/10

06-Pepper/Cinammon coated churros – There are many types of churros around the globe, therefore the suggestion that one churro is superior to another one is generally a misconception as it is more likely a matter of personal preference (talking about preference, I prefer the churros that are simply coated in sugar to the ones that are filled with either chocolate or dulce de leche – Escondite’s are of the coated sort ) … unless, of course, your churro is carbonized or drowning in a pool of oil.  I have heard  great things about  Escondite’s long ridged donuts, but they  were flawed on this evening:  they were surprisingly dry and hard  in texture and consistency instead of  boasting a nice crunchy exterior. I wish I could tell you about the interior, which — regardless of  the type of churros —  is expected to be soft,  but the churros I was having in this evening were way too  thin, making the interior so tiny that it would be hard to describe to human eye. It is not hard to find far better freshly made churros than these in Montreal   5/10

The cocktails (I took a cafe/tequila as well as a mezcla  based cocktail) I had on this evening were all memorable.

 

Upon its opening, Escondite took the local  restaurant scene  by storm. Since then,  not one single  local food blogger/journalist has missed the opportunity to shower the place with superlatives such as “the best tacos in town”, the “most authentic of them all”, “the best churros”,  etc. Of course, the “best of” has never meant anything, but I was curious to see if  this taqueria could better its competitors on the culinary front. For traditional tacos,  it is El Rey Del Tacos that will pull flavors as close to the motherland’s as it is possible to find in Montreal. Maria Bonita  and Caifan are great at that, too. Maria Bonita and Caifan are not to be missed, btw. But this should  take nothing  away from Escondite which has opted to voluntarily add a their own  twists to tex mex cuisine. And it is doing it well. The best tacos in town? There is a myriad of taquerias here in Montreal with the big majority of them being fine and performing at virtually the same level. There is no benchmark tacos in Montreal. Just plenty of fine and some (very rare) bad ones. To the contrary of popular  belief, bad taquerias are rare. What is common is the unfortunate propensity  to perceive food as what we want it to be instead of accepting things the way they are supposed to. Most ppl  think that greasy mexican food equals badly executed food. It is certainly not healthy, but that does not mean that it is not delivered the way it should . Then we have preconceived notions about what temperatures are supposed to be right or wrong, what textures should prevail. Take the abalone or the squid. We have denied them the right to be what they are…they should be tender, that is what we want them to be. They are not tender by nature…but dare serving them a bit  chewy (which is their ideal texture for palatability ) and you get an avalanche of inaccurate views. Soon, we’ll have genetically modified abalone and squid, they will born tender like a kiss,  just to fulfill our fantasies, and everyone will talk about the squid and abalone of their incredible dreams.
Bottom line: Mexican food is flavor-packed by design  (who can’t make something tasty out of an avocado? strips of pork belly and pineapple? ground meat with grilled cheese? ) , therefore I do expect much more than just  tasty food at this kind of eatery. I expect good drinks, fine ingredients, good work of the textures of the food, the appropriate technique and a great sense of timing. Bad timing (who wants his ground meat served lukewarm?) and bad ingredients are the common culprits when people tell you that they had bad mexican food. I did not find those  usual culprits of bad Mexican food at Escondite, but good drinks/technique/timing/textures. And delicious food.  Escondite is doing well for a  tex mex inspired bistrot in Montreal.
Overall rating for the food: 7/10 (Category : tacos and tequila bar in North America)  by Tex Mex cooking standards in North America. I found the food generally well executed, always refined and yet full of  gusto. One fine taqueria, for sure. And it’s hip/lively.
What I think days later: One fun local taqueria that deserves its popularity. One important thing to know, though, but that virtually no one seems to have mentioned online is that the portions of the tacos are not sizeable (6 inches snack flour tortillas), which is starting to be the norm at many local taquerias, but those (like me) who are used to larger tortillas at tacos bars will need to know that.  With that in mind, the average diner will do fine with  two servings of their tacos if he is not hungry. At least three tacos may  be necessary to feel satiated.

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AA Gill dies at 62 – He was a food writer with unrivaled wit. A divise character (you definitely  need a sense of humor to appreciate AA Gill’s hilarious writings) , for sure, but one of world’s most  captivating food writers (He was also a professional journalist covering various topics for the Sunday Times and Vanity Fair). The kind that you are unlikely going to praise in public (certainly not a critic  favored  by the restaurant industry, an industry that he oftently  tore to pieces –a good example of that can be found in his review of L’Ami Louis in Paris —  ) , perhaps, but whose  rants will not  leave the most  indifferent. To the contrary of many food journalists who run after public relations activities  that promote the restaurants they review,  AA Gill has always expressed disdain at the  restaurant world / food writers “bromance”.

 

Gault et Millau  “Palmares 2017”  for Quebec  –  Yvan Lebrun from L’Initiale is their Chef of the year. Their “Chef of the future” is John Winter Russel from Candide. I ate the food of Yvan while visiting Quebec city once for lunch in 2010 (that review can be found here) , then for dinner in July 2015. Chef Lebrun is one of the best French Chefs of this province (Dinner was stronger than lunch, though), and I have no problem with his best Chef award. As for John, I  never ate at his restaurant. The “Palmares 2017” shows that G&M is slowly but surely getting familiar with our province’s restaurant scene, but it will be hard to explain to the local food experts, those truely familiar with our restaurants, how talented Chefs  like Mercuri (Le Serpent), De Montigny (La Chronique), José Pierre Durand (Poivre Noir), Jean-Francois Belair (who used to work at  Le Marly, ), Marc Cohen (Lawrence), just to name a few, do not count among G&M’s cream of the crop .

 

Restaurant Marconi, Montreal – Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly is back in Montreal. He was at Au Pied de Cochon when APDC was in its prime and that is where I had the opportunity to sample his food for the first time. Back then,  I was impressed by what Mehdi was doing because he was an excellent interpretor of APDC’s Martin Picard neo-rustic North American/Quebecois bistrot cooking which can be remarkable in skilled hands, indeed, but utterly forgettable  in lesser ones (I have experienced both incarnations of ADPC and trust me…) . In those days, most foodies argued that Mehdi’s skills were second only to Chefs Picard/Dufour. For anyone who was lucky enough to have tasted the food cooked by Dufour and Picard in their heydays, that is no ordinary feature by any restaurant standard, here and abroad. He also worked at celebrated Montreal fine dining destination Toque!. Mehdi left the Montreal restaurant scene for many years pursuing his career as a Chef  in New York (Fedora, Chez Sardine).

This article of Tastet.ca  contains  beautiful pictures of the interior of  restaurant Marconi –

menuWhat  I ate:

 

mackerelNigiri maquereau fume (mayonnaise épicée , riz croustillant) – Nigiri of smoked mackerel /spicy mayonnaise/ crispy rice $6  Marconi is not a sushiya, therefore its nigiri is not a food item  that I was going to sample with the same expectations I would have at a sushiya, obviously, but this was delicious (a benchmark spicy mayonnaise, joyous flavours) and well executed. The excellent smoked mackerel from Gaspesie, a highlight 8/10

langue-de-boeufLangue de boeuf/ pommes/arachides/vinaigrette gingembre $13 cabbage and apple wrapped in slices of exquisitely flavored beef tongue. The vinaigrette packed with enticing fresh acidity (fresh acidity being an aspect of this evening’s meal  that is used to great effect on this dish as well as the subsequent one). Plenty of fun on  the palate. 8/10

duckPoitrine de canard/ble/abricots/melasse (sauce de melasse et citron) – Duck breast/wheat/apricot/molasses  $23 Enjoyably richly flavored  wheat, nicely rosy duck breast and a dazzling molasses/lime reduction. This was another creative and well executed delicious bistrot dish but I would incorporate perhaps  some veggies to that dish  7.5/10

panna-cottaPanna cotta/creme d’argousier/biscuit graham –  Delicately sweetened panna cotta, competently thickened, covered by a first-rate cream of sea buckthorn berries.  Tasty, with enticing flavor contrasts and as with the other dishes, when an ingredient is used  for textural contrast(in this case, the graham cracker crumbs) , it really  ADDS to the enjoyment of the dish 7.5/10

Pros: Inspired bistrot cooking using quality ingredients, friendly  service, interesting wine list.
Cons: N/A

All in all: 8/10 (Categ: North American/ Cosmopolitan bistrot ) – Strong level of local bistrot cooking with joyous  and creative combinations of flavors. My main waitress told me that her personal top 3 are the egg mimosa (with miso), the bone marrow (and she usually does not like bone marrow) and the homemade gnocchi. That is exactly what I am going to try next time I will eat again at Marconi, if those items are still on their menu. A coup de coeur, for me.  Marconi Addr: 45 rue Mozart Ouest, Montreal, QC. Phone: 514-490-0777

What I think a week later:  In the recent years, most  of  the restaurants I regarded as the very best   in Montreal and surroundings  have closed (Le petit plateau, le marly, bistrot cocagne, cuisines & dependances, la porte, au cinquieme peche  in montreal, Les zebres in val david), some  are not what they used to be (au pied de cochon, bouillon bilk, bottega, etc), others have Chefs I admire and will always do … but which transition from what they excelled at … to what works  best for their business ..did translate  in less  sparks on the plate (compared to the heights that their chefs have proven  to be capable of), as far as I am concerned (hoogan & beaufort, pastaga). People do what they have got to do, and I have to respect that, but for someone like me who values  true talented artisan Chefs, seeing so many talents “reduced to silence” only served to be even more  cynical. Abroad, people buy into the idea that  montreal is  a foodie destination. I would join that “bandwagon of positivity”  if montreal  was able to keep its best talents motivated. I am sure that in a city like Tokyo, Paris or San Sebastian, Chefs like Martin Picard, Jean-Paul Giroux, Jean-Francois Belair, Martin Juneau or Benoit Lenglet would still have the motivation to work hard behind their stoves.  But as ever, with montreal, the boat will “never sink” as there will always be some few great Chefs who continue to  believe in this city and who are proud to continue to work behind their stoves : Michelle Mercuri (Le Serpent), Olivier De Montigny (La Chronique), Marc  Cohen (Lawrence) are still around. Eric Gonzalez, too.  And now Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly.

 

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restaurant-m-la-nuitRestaurant Mimi La nuit (Addr: 22 Rue Saint Paul E, Montréal, QC; Phone: 514- 507-5449 URL: http://mimilanuit.com) is located in the Vieux port. We sampled their kefta (on this specific evening, the kefta more refined and slightly less spicy than what you will experience with some of its traditional renditions, but the flavor is genuine), salmon tartare (Ordinary – It may sound exaggerate to expect more from a basic mix of salmon and avocado, but such basic combination can and did dazzle at other bistrots ), sausage (Ok, but sausages need to truely stand out in order to make an impression when dining out whereas the effect of this sausage was as fine as the numerous sausages that most ppl are grilling in their backyard), lamb chops (the quality of the lamb high), crostini (a safe bet as expected), crab cakes (a gourmet take on the crab cake, with the cakes shaped like ping pong balls / this was pleasant on the palate and pretty to espy).

All in all : 6.5/10 In light of what I am used to in the category “french/north american/ cosmopolitan bistrot food”. It is hardly the best or one of the very best in that category, but it delivered pleasant food and sometimes, the food was more than just pleasant (the kefta, their condiments).

ntNos thes (215 Rue Sainte-Catherine Est Montreal, Quebec Phone: (438) 289-0418)- Tried NosThes, a Taiwanese-style restaurant which speciality is tea but that serves food too.

Braised beef tendon slices in thickened spicy soy sauce braising broth is what I had here on a first visit, the overall tasting genuinely fine with well balanced seasoning. That was a lunch special which came with a starter of marinated carrots (excellent marinade which complex sweetness did lift the natural fruity-ness of the carrots in a way that not many cooks can do). Soup was made of seaweed and eggs and this, too, was a properly executed version of this popular soup.
All in all : 6/10 Above average Taiwanese food by our local standards, offering decent Taiwanese-inspired  classical fares. Seems like a place where you are unlikely going to stumble upon cooking slips such as dry food, overcooked rice, unbalanced seasoning. And if someone does not find this place Taiwanese enough, then locate the country where this restaurant is located on a map and ask that person to say loudly where NT is situated. Not in Taiwan, but in Canada. Exactly… But certainly as Taiwanese as your food is going to taste in MTL.

 

La Caye (Address: 35 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, USA Phone: +1 718-858-4160 URL: http://www.lacayebk.com/) – I went back to my (current) preferred Haitian-style bistrot in North America, La Caye. Like many, I am not too enthused at paying a lot of money — La Caye is pricey—- for casual food (although, if you are not the kind of person who tends to overlook ethnic food, it should not be hard to appreciate that La Caye elevates this food to adequate restaurant quality) but there are few tropical eateries that are appropriate for a date (the reason I picked La Caye in the first place…but ensure you do not go there for a date during peak hours as it is small and can be packed).

akraAccra– most ethnic eateries will serve you their tired looking accras they could not sell the day before (apparently, based on reports of many North American foodies,  this is more common in Montreal than in New York) . Not here. Freshly fried, with superb golden texture. There are many types of accras (Haitians tend to favor malanga as the star ingredient for their accras), but this is one example of a benchmark accra (easy-on-the-eyes refined exterior, exciting  seasoning, not greasy at all) . 10/10

lanbi-boukanenLanbi boukannen ( Grilled conch) In some tropical islands, they grill the conch in its shell, paving the way to some great flavor enhancement. But that is, of course, not possible for a restaurant that is miles away from any tropical sea. So eventually, the texture and the taste of your grilled conch is different at a tropical eatery in a city like Brooklyn. And that was not going to be an exception at La Caye. However, the conch was as good as your grilled conch will fare at any Haitian restaurant in North America, just not of the exceptional ‘freshly snatched from the sea’ sort of conch (as one would expect). Seasoned and grilled adequately, but I am not a fan of grilled conch (I prefer eating it raw or in a sauce — it appeared at my table only because my girlfriend loves grilled conch).

lanbiLanbi (conch) in sauce was as great as on my last visit here, the sauce exquisitely prepared, the conch boasting a superb chew. As submitted earlier, the quality of the conch itself is the same as what you will find at most Haitian eateries in North America, but this is still as great as it gets in a Haitian restaurant this side of the world (I can think of, perhaps, 2 or 3 lanbi sauces that did tantalize a bit more, but they were cooked by exceptionally talented Haitian Moms). 8/10

goatGrilled goat (pictured above) and goat in sauce featured goat of fine quality, and seasoning that was — again and again — packed with punch. My preferred grilled goat remains the one from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Ntaba, but this was another example of flawless classic caribbean cooking. 8/10

Fried pressed banana plantain  is easy to make, according to plenty of Chefs, and yet it is oftently leaden at most   ethnic restaurants. Here, no such issue but  freshly fried press banana plantains of perfected texture (light and crisp)  and flavor (10/10).

Black mushroom rice (Diri ak djon djon) expressed enticing aromas (8/10), the condiments were all first rate items.

All in all: 8/10 Consistently great Haitian / Caribbean cuisine by North American Caribbean restaurant standards, but La Caye is not cheap and at those prices, I need the litchi of my litchi sangria to be of the non-canned sort and to be available only when it is in season. Furthermore, La Caye really needs to make more exciting cocktails (the prosecco/ mango juice cocktail as well as Litchi sangria that I had were not exciting drinks).

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gaGracia Afrika has a lovely Congolese (RDC) Mom at the helm. She cooks some staples of her native RDC (grilled coat?? goat in sauce), digs in other cuisines (The Ndole of Cameroon, the Haitian riz colle), and will feed you with some of the most popular African/Carribean casual food items (fried tilapia, etc). Things went exactly as expected: since I told her that I was African and given that I was alone, she asked me if I would kindly accept to give my seat (ideally positioned by the window) to the group of clients that came right after me. Hospitalité Africaine oblige, I obliged. Then came the food: it is a tuesday evening, quiet evening, so hospitalite Africaine oblige, I was the one who would have to eat the reheated goat en sauce of the day before. The group of clients that came after me,  are, of course, going to be fed on the fresh food of the evening. Frustrating? No, not at all. It is typical, it is cultural. Can the lovely Mom cook? Yes, of course: the dishes at the other tables looked freshly prepared and seemed well done. Furthermore, the chilli condiment and the fried banana served with my goat curry were proof that this lovely (because, truth be told, she is lovely) can do well. Any problem? Well, the lovely Mom and myself agreed on feeding me with charcoal grilled goat. I saw no sign of charcoal in her small kitchen, no sign of a grill neother, so not sure how she can grill on charcoal. Anyways, charcoal grilled goat was never going to make an appearance at my table, it was goat in sauce and goat in sauce that was reheated from the day before was never going to excite, as expected. So, will I go back? Yes, but on a saturday evening when this lovely Mom is so busy that only fresh food can come out from her kitchen. Food rating for what I had on this evening: 4/10 Gracia Afrika 3506 Rue Notre-Dame O, Montréal, QC  Phone:  (514) 713-1061 URL: http://www.graciaafrika.com/ang/accueil.html

 

Quick little tour in Ottawa, with a foodie whose palate I highly regard. Her “not to be missed” suggestion, Host India was  spot on. I did not take any pictures as I was dining with ppl I just met for the first time, and who have nothing to do with the foodie world,  consequently starting shooting pics of my food would have passed as odd.   Their relative weakness at Host India would perhaps be  the chicken kababs (I had more flavorful kabab elsewhere).  Also,  why that confusion between a dal makhni vs a dal tadka..?? …it is not the same dish at all. Anyways,  all things considered, I cared enough for Host India to  look past its minor flaws.  Not to be compared to  any of the best   Indian restaurants of Toronto (Toronto  has the very best Indian food in the nation), but definitely as fine if not better than our best Indian restaurants in Montreal. Some of the finest Indian    flavors (delicious sauces, the beef madras as well as butter chicken particularly well executed) I ever  tasted in Ottawa. Food rating: 7/10 Host India, Addr: 622 Montreal Rd, Ottawa, ON Phone: (613) 746-4678 URL: http://hostindia.ca/

fpAt footprints cafe, clarendon, brooklyn, we sampled    chicken wings (jerk) $8.25,  crab cakes $10.25 (one legit version of the crab cake, though …in a country where crab cakes is all the rage..this felt underwhelming for my taste and to my eye — this  crab cake needed more crab flavor / the the taste of the breadcrumbs was dominating the flavor of the crab ), curried goat $15.95  cooked with ginger and onions, salmon and shrimp combo (grilled) 26.95 (Grilled Salmon was executed properly, but not exciting – I had more flavorful caribbean-inspired grilled salmon dishes elsewhere).  All competent, exactly as the Jamaican friends who recommended me this place did suggest. The goat curry, the highlight of this evening alongside a flawless jerk chicken (both respecting the flavors of the Jamaican traditional recipes of the jerk chicken and goat curry).  FP was fine, the line up of Jamaicans at their door certainly a reminder that this restaurant feeds them with flavors that are as close to home as a Jamaican  chain restaurant can deliver in NY,  my (relative) small quips (??) having nothing to do with the restaurant but with some specific Jamaican dishes: the Jamaican dish of rice and peas  has always tasted bland to my palate (some well travelled foodies came to the same conclusion in this article ) , especially when compared to the far more delicious Haitian riz collé. And that grilled salmon and grilled shrimp is basic food, indeed, but  I swear, it dazzled … elsewhere! Sometimes I wished I had just discovered food just hours ago, lol, as  …the fact that I am  familiar with other types of  ethnic food ..does eventually affect my appreciation of certain dishes as that is exactly what happened with that crab cake and grilled salmon. Even the Jamaican lamb curry, although done the genuine Jamaican way here at FP, is not among my preferred ethnic lamb curries (I just prefer other types of seasonings with my lamb curry…but well, it is the way the Jamaican do, so I have to respect that as I was obviously at a Jamaican restaurant). Personal taste, for sure ..BUT at least..I have the decency of refraining from assessing it with numbers (which would be utterly inaccurate in this case). As for their rasta pasta (their signature dish), no thank you: I’ll fall for it the day you will make your own home made pasta. Or else, what is the point? Footprints Café, Addr: 5814 Clarendon Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11203, USA Phone: +1 718-451-3181 URL: http://footprintscafenyc.com/

fhsFuji Hibachi Steakhouse (NYC)  faces port authority, a few blocks away from Time square. They opened around 3 weeks prior to my meal (I ate there in sunday Oct 30th). Service was good, the small restaurant having a touch of relative elegance to it (its rest room, contemporary). The Miso soup and edamame I had were good,  but they will have to play attention at tiny details such as the proper doneness of their cooked meat (my girlfriend wanted her red meat to a certain doneness, I wanted mine to a different one but we both ended up with meat cooked to the exact same doneness) as well as lifting up the flavors (it was ok, but there are Japanese eateries offering this style of food with much more flavor). Given the not-so-high prices (relatively to NYC, especially in such centrally located spot) that they charge, it is normal that they do not use prime quality ingredients (veggies, for eg), though fine enough (veggies and meat are of the quality  you will find at most supermarkets) but that ultimately  took away from the full enjoyment of my food at FHS:  simple food like sauteed/grilled veggies or meat have always pleased me more than their sophisticated versions  but then you need exceptional produce and great flavors to get away with it. And that is what I was missing during this visit. Food rating: 6/10  Fuji Hibachi Addr: 321 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036 Phone: +1 212-757-1820

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